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Travel guide: Warsaw, Poland!

Travel guide: Warsaw, Poland
Back in May 2015 I visited Warsaw, Poland for work (visiting the Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Center), so I checked out the city during a little bit of free time that week! Here’s a quick list of what I did and loved:

See and do

Walking around the Old Town

I got a map at the tourist info booth, and went on a self-guided walking tour of the Old Town. I also recommend Rick Steves’ tour guides and travel advice. Warsaw had some cool artsy shops along the side streets, and I got a really nice pair of earrings in one!

I also walked along the wall of the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto and a nearby outdoor photography museum to the uprising. I didn’t go into any museums since my tourist time was quite limited.

Marie Skłodowska Curie’s birthplace

Marie Skłodowska Curie birthplace, Warsaw, Poland
For many people, Marie Skłodowska Curie’s the only female physicist (or even female scientist) they can name. As fellow #womeninSTEM I stopped by her birthplace, which has a nice mural on the outside!

Public Parks

Public Park, Warsaw, Poland
On the afternoon before we left, I hung out in one of the public parks and read my book for a bit. It was grey and a touch drizzly, but I sat on a bench under a big tree, so I still had a nice time.

The giant palm tree

Palm tree, Warsaw, Poland
There’s a giant palm tree in a traffic circle on your way from the astronomy institute into the old city. Palm trees aren’t native to Warsaw…

Eat

E. Wedel drinking chocolate

E. Wedel drinking chocolate in Warsaw, Poland
It’s not “hot chocolate”, it’s delicious molten drinkable chocolate. I happened to read about it in a travel forum when googling “what should I see in Warsaw” while I waited for my flight here, and I’M SO GLAD I DID. I recommend starting off with the classic milk chocolate, and on subsequent visits you can up your game (we visited maybe 3 times during the week). There’s an E. Wedel cafe in the Old Town.

Pierogies

Zapiecek perogy restaurant, Warsaw, Poland
We ate pierogies for most dinners, because PIEROGIES ARE DELICIOUS and honestly part of the reason I decided to go on this work trip was to gorge myself on pierogies. Zapiecek Polskie Pierogarnie is a local restaurant with a few locations around Warsaw, so we kept going back to different ones each time so that the staff wouldn’t begin to recognize us.

Other advice

Since Polish as a language is very different from any other languages I’m familiar with, I found it was best to have a small notebook and pen in my purse, so that I could write down where I wanted to go to give to the taxi driver or when asking for help. Some adults speak a bit of English, but don’t assume that you’ll be able to get by easily.

Also, if you like makeup: there’s a huge Inglot counter in the Warsaw airport duty-free! Their lipsticks are excellent.💄

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Cycling through the tulip fields

Tulip fields in South Holland, the Netherlands
It’s tulip season in the Netherlands!! So on a sunny day off at the beginning of Easter weekend, we went for an afternoon-long bike ride through the tulip fields (or more generally, bulb fields) in South Holland, a province of the Netherlands. I recommend going in the middle-to-end of April for optimal spectacular sights, but as many guidebooks will tell you, anytime mid-March through mid-May should still yield picturesque views.

Bikes

Bikes in tulip fields
Since I live in Amsterdam, we didn’t want to cycle alllll the way there and THEN cycle around, so we started in Sassenheim, a town between Amsterdam Schiphol airport and Leiden. It costs about €6 on top of the normal train fare to bring your bike. If you’re just visiting and don’t have your own bike, you can rent bikes at the airport or Keukenhof gardens and cycle from there, rent them in town and take them on the train, or if you live in the Netherlands, rent them at train stations with OV-fiets. A cruiser bike or road bike is fine for this trip — no need to have a fancy off-road bike.

The route

Bike route through tulip fields in South Holland, the Netherlands
I consulted these sites to determine the best route for us: Holland Cycling, Tulips in Holland, and The Spinlister Blog. Most of them make use of the bike path network, which has numbered points (knooppunten) with various connecting routes. The route mapped above is 30 km (18.6 mi), which takes about 2 hours without stops. Keep in mind though, you’ll stop frequently to take photos and enjoy the view! I encourage you to use the Fietsknoop app to plan the above route (unfortunately I can’t embed it as a navigable map) or make your own!

At or near each knooppunt, there’s a map showing the local area with connecting paths and points, so you can navigate without needing GPS. In the picture above, the route we took is marked with green lines, and the dark blue lines show the other bicycle routes in the area. In purple between points 44 and 48, I marked the part where we deviated from the nice paths and went on the normal bike path alongside the road. As mentioned above, we started at the train station in Sassenheim, and just went towards the town center until we hit Hoofdstraat, then turned right. That pretty much put us at point 50 (bottom center, marked with a big star).

The route in text: Sassenheim Station > 50 > 58 > 55 > 57 > 38 > 07 > 49 > 40 > 48 > 11 > 44 > towards 06 then turn left at Delftweg to 48 > 47 > 80 > 75 > 74 > 59 > 58 > 56 > 50 > Sassenheim Station.

Cycling through tulip fields!

Hyacinth field in South Holland, the Netherlands
Red and yellow tulips in South Holland, the Netherlands
We improvised a bit (that’s the polite phrasing for “going the wrong way but being fine with it and eventually getting back on track”, right?), but generally stuck to the above route. Go at a comfortable pace, take photos, pull off for a picnic when you feel like it, and don’t forget to literally stop and smell the flowers! There are also a couple cafes throughout the route, and their prices looked reasonable.

Local tips

  • There are other systems of numbered route points that you’ll see on wooden posts as you cycle around. You want to use the green circled numbers that are on small street signs.
  • Bring picnic snacks (cheese, crackers, fruit, etc.) and at least a liter of drinking water.
  • Dutch words that might be useful:
    • bloem(en) = flower(s)
    • bollenvelden = bulb fields, the more accurate name for the tulip fields (since there are daffodils and hyacinths as well)
    • fiets = bike, both the noun and the verb
    • tulp(en) = tulip(s)

Tulip fields without cycling

If cycling isn’t your forte, you can still see much of this route if you take the train from Haarlem to Leiden (about 20 minutes), though be warned that it flashes by pretty quickly. You can also walk through displays of countless varieties of tulips and other bulb flowers at the Keukenhof gardens.

Is seeing the Dutch tulip fields on your bucket list? If you’ve already been, what’s your favourite route?

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Vote for my photos on FlyingBlue!

Garmisch-Partenkirchen Partnachklamm
Garmisch-Partenkirchen valley
Please vote for my photos on FlyingBlue to be on the KLM Elite bag tags! Click on the photo above to follow the link, and use the Facebook “Like” button to vote. Both photos were taken last August near Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the German Alps. They’re my two favourite photos from that trip 🙂

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Layover time: Georgia Aquarium

I had an 8 hour layover in Atlanta on my trip from Rochester to Amsterdam in August, so I left the airport and went to the Georgia Aquarium! The aquarium has four juvenile whale sharks and two manta rays in the big tank!
Georgia Aquarium, Aug 2015

It’s pricey (~$40 for adult admission), but I like to think that it’s both admission and supporting the aquarium’s conservation efforts, so I just sucked it up. Also, I was the only non-kid without a kid of my own there, but it seemed like lots of people brought their babies just to have an excuse to go themselves (because the baby doesn’t understand what’s going on and won’t remember any of it). But it was worth it! I strongly disagree with keeping dolphins in captivity, so I didn’t pay extra to see that exhibit.

I got there 5 minutes after they opened, so I didn’t wait in a line to get my ticket, but the aquarium entrance has some serious crowd-control set up outside, so there must be big lines later in the day and over holidays. I stuck around to watch them feed the whale sharks and sea otters — it was pretty cool.

This is one of two aquariums in the world with whale sharks (my boyfriend has been to the other one in Osaka, Japan!), and they have a clear tunnel under the big tank that some of the first pictures are from. It was so cool!!

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Traveling in Greece this summer

Photo: Volcano and boat from Santorini, in Greece
I just spent 5 days in the Greek islands and it was super great!! The weather was beautiful, the scenery was gorgeous, and the food was delicious. Contrary to what you might think due to the economic and political protests, being a tourist in Greece is still safe and fun. In general, the issues and frustrations here are with the governments (local and EU), not with you as an individual tourist. One of the things you can do to help the Greek economy is to visit and spend money!

As an English-speaking tourist, I found that many shop owners and restaurant waiters would speak a bit of English with me and ask me where I was from and strike up conversations. I liked how friendly the whole atmosphere was! But maybe if you’re German, don’t tell them you’re from Germany? Or do so but apologize for your country/government? I don’t know, YMMV. But also, welcome to how it can feel to be an American traveling abroad 😕

I’ve compiled some tips for people traveling to Greece this summer (many of them are general travel tips):

  • Don’t be a dumbass.
  • Don’t be rude. You are a guest in their country.
  • Take out cash before you arrive (from your bank at home or from the ATM if you live/stop over elsewhere in the eurozone before Greece). The local currency is euros.
  • Spend your money at local businesses over chains.
  • Tipping in sit-down restaurants is 5-10% if you’re a larger group (≳ 4) and/or if the service was really great.
  • Some things may cost more than what a local would pay due to the unofficial “tourist tax” (price inflation in the heavily touristy areas). You can shop around a bit, but surprise! You’re a tourist! This is just how it goes.
  • Make an effort to learn the basics in Greek and use them: hello (geia), goodbye (antío), please (parakaló), thank you (efcharistó). You can download the google translate offline dictionary to your smartphone, and it will even pronounce the words for you!
  • The local style of coffee is called “Greek coffee” when in Greece, “Turkish coffee” when in Turkey.
  • Tourist info booths are great places to get a map of the town and some tips on what’s worth the visit.
  • As in other European countries, it’s very common for hotels to make a copy of your passport or write down your passport number for their official records. On cruise ships, they actually keep your passport for the duration of the trip. So, don’t freak out.
  • Bring plenty of sunscreen (especially if you’re as pale as I am), after-sun aloe gel, a sunhat of some kind, sunglasses, and carry a water bottle. It’s hot and sunny, so protect your skin and stay hydrated!

Have fun and enjoy!!

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Travel guide: Amsterdam, Netherlands

This is my go-to list of fun things to do and see for when family and friends visit me in Amsterdam, Netherlands! I compiled this from suggestions from friends, colleagues, and travel guides; we haven’t done everything on the list, but we made a valiant effort. It’s Amsterdam-based/focused, since that’s where I live. Things with an asterisk are must-do’s!

Amsterdam canal houses Holland Netherlands

In Amsterdam

These are accessible within Amsterdam, and typically some can be combined in one day. Look into buying a museumkaart – many of the museums in Holland are free with one.
– * Albert Cuypmarkt or Dappermarkt (open air markets) for fresh stroopwafels
– Amsterdamse Bos (nice for a picnic in the summer! requires cycling to get there)(visit the goat farm, cherry blossom park, and Scottish Highlander cows)
– * Anne Frank house (you absolutely should buy tickets in advance to avoid the long queue; book ASAP!!)
– Bloemenmarkt (the flower market – pretty quick)
– * Canal cruise (this one is pretty good — I recommend going at dusk!)
– Cheese tasting (we did this one at Reypenaer and loved it; book in advance!)
– Dam square (pretty quick)
– * Eat an Indonesian rijsttafel (places I’ve been that I liked: Desa, Sampurna, or Kantjil & the Tiger)
Heineken Experience (a tour through the old Heineken brewery with demonstrations on how they make Heineken beer; book tickets in advance, since the line gets long)
Hermitage Amsterdam (art museum with a rotating exhibit, so check before going)
Hortis botanical gardens (best in the spring and summer)
Kalverstraat shopping
– Oude Kerk (oldest building in Amsterdam — founded in 1213!)
– * Parks – Vondelpark, Oosterpark, Amstelpark, Frankendael, etc. (Distilleerderij ‘t Nieuw Diep is a little cafe in Flevopark; there’s also a teahouse in Vondelpark)
– Rembrandtplein (cool statues, and lots of clubs/nightlife)
– * Rijksmuseum: classic huge art museum with lots of stuff to see! The building itself is also gorgeous. I recommend starting at the top floor (in the “hall of greats”) and working your way down.
Tassenmuseum (Museum of Bags and Purses, dating back to the middle ages!)
Tropenmuseum (anthropological museum with many traces of Dutch colonialism/imperialism)
– * Walk through the Jordaan canal district and old city center. Rick Steves has a free audioguide for walking around this neighbourhood. (navigational note: the city is laid out in polar coordinates, not Cartesian) (watch your step on the cobblestones and curbs, and always check for bicycles before crossing!)

Other places in Amsterdam for food: Winkel43 for Dutch apple pie, La Falote for classic Dutch food, Upstairs Pannekoekenhuis for Dutch-style pancakes (like crepes, but with the toppings cooked into the batter; also available at many other cafes), La Vallade for fancy upscale European food, Albina restaurant for Surinamese food, Le Petit Latin for French food, Ponte Arcari for Italian food, Tapas de Arroyo for Spanish tapas, Taytu Restaurant for Ethiopian food, India Roti Room for Indian food

Other places in Amsterdam for drinks: Gollem Raamsteeg or Gollem Daniel Stalpertstraat for Dutch and Belgian beers, Brouwerij ‘t IJ for local Dutch beers, Wynand Fockink for liqueurs and jenevers (like gin), Whiskycafe L&B for whiskeys, Mulligan’s Irish Pub for Irish beers and live music

Tulip fields near Leiden in April Holland Netherlands

Nearby in/near Noord-Holland

Close enough to Amsterdam that they can be a morning or afternoon trip (generally within the province of Noord-Holland). Tip: Use 9292 to plan train and other public transit journeys in the Netherlands!
Aalsmeer flower auction
Gouda or Alkmaar cheese markets (go for the full historical thing)
– Haarlem (they have a nice Saturday morning market in the old town square)
– * Keukenhof tulip fields (best in April, when the tulips are in bloom)(if you’re feeling cheap or tired and just want a glimpse, take the train between Leiden and Heemstede-Aerdenhout, and you’ll pass by some great fields)(or cycle through the tulip fields with my route!)
Zaanse Schans windmills & historic town
– Zandvoort aan Zee (the beach!)

Maastricht Holland Netherlands

Elsewhere in the Netherlands

These require a full day or more.
– * Delft (market in the old square, Nieuwe Kerk, Oude Kerk)
– Den Haag (Mauritshuis, Gemeentemuseum, Scheveningen beach)
– Maastricht, caves in Valkenburg aan de Geul, and the 3-country point (will probably need to rent a car once you reach Maastricht, and likely requires an overnight stay in the area)
– Rotterdam, Maeslantkering storm surge barrier, Kinderdijk windmills, boat trip around the Randstad

Amsterdam Centraal train station Holland Netherlands

What would you add to the list? Are you planning to swing through the Netherlands on your next trip?

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